What is the meaning of love in the modern world?
These days, finding true love is an innate quest central to most people’s life goals. Poets write about it, musicians sing about it, philosophers discuss it, and most humans crave it. But, in reality, defining and understanding true love is complex.
So, what truly, is love?
We all know what true love is… right?
At least we all think we do.
We understand the common concept of true love. But is it purely based on feelings of bliss and impulsive acts of expression? Moreover, how is it that two people that were once “madly in love” can just… fall out of it?
Generally, the modern-day understanding of love, love of the Romeo and Juliet kind, is considered as an ideal and an endpoint to our existence. When we talk about what love is we tend to focus on a perception where popular culture makes ‘falling in love’ or ‘being in love’ as the be-all and end-all of our existence. The idea that there might be a different meaning to love is not considered. It turns out that true love, as we commonly know it, is not only unrealistic but is also misunderstood by many.
What if there was a much deeper and meaningful definition?
What if, love wasn’t just a feeling — but a choice?
With experience and growth, over time, many people come to this realisation. A realisation that being in love is not just experiencing warm and fuzzy feelings to seemingly innocent infatuations. Where time is lost and our energies and emotions are consumed. It may seem difficult to comprehend that there may be any other definition of true love, other than that which we are exposed to from a young age.
Contrary to what we have grown up watching in movies and the media, where we are blinded by the concept of finding our one true love, love is not just a dream of living happily ever after. Rather, it is a process where we have to actively make conscious decisions and choices that affect not only ourselves but also those around us – those who we love!
So, why is there a need to explain the logical meaning of true love?
In present-day society, a spiraling increase of suffering and turmoil often stems from broken relationships, immorality, and discontentment. All these issues are contributing to a rise in divorce rates, domestic abuse, and gender-based violence. The choices being made are more often than not resulting in life-altering consequences such as unwanted pregnancies, infanticide in the form of abortion or abandoned babies, broken families, shortened careers, and shattered dreams.
Society has forgotten the meaning of establishing relationships built upon harmonious and peaceful family structures, which in turn offers protection of morals and prevents degradation of society. This is because when the love that is based on shallow sentiments fades, and when we do not achieve the societal definition of love, it often results in misery.
False notions of true love limit our progress, our scope in life.
External attractiveness fades with time, success is unpredictable, and aging is inevitable. One’s value can only be for temporary comfort or convenience if these superficial criteria are what we keep aiming for. Such meaningless definitions of love can only be used to accessorise and adorn our egos.
As the initial attraction fades away, this once beautiful bond of faithfulness and fidelity between two people diminishes to something temporary and lascivious. People feel obliged to break off their relationship in search of that continuous burst of oxytocin, those forever feelings of excitement and happiness.
Since ego-based relationships are based on temporary qualities, they also exert tremendous amounts of pressure to be ‘perfect’ – when in reality no one is perfect. This is what causes relationships to fail, and why the common understanding of love is an illogical interpretation. This happens when “… the morals and character of a person are aspects that are demoted and ignored instead of being the focus of affection. Whereas, as a poet has once written, the material and outward features of the world are only temporary and fleeting and will fade away and love for them is short-lived. This is not real love. Therefore, one needs to develop such love which is true love.”
It is easy to become confused.
Even world-renowned poets have fallen victim to misinterpretations of their works encompassing love. The works of Rumi, arguably, the most famously quoted poet in the world on the topic of love, often falls prey to mere imaginative interpretations of carnal love, by translators who have absolutely no understanding of the Persian language.
Far from the depth of his original work, they have separated Rumi from his own words, from his faith. In actuality, he shares a deeply philosophical, analogical, and mystical amalgamation exemplifying the true essence of love, and its fulfillment of a greater purpose. There is no denying it; the need to love something or someone, or to feel loved ourselves – these feelings exist. However, they must act as motivators – as drivers of a greater purpose.
So, what is the meaning of true love?
When people describe love, they often refer to ‘lifeless generalisations’(1) that seem to lack meaning. Modern psychology, however, leads us to the realisation that true love is much more than what society often leads us to believe. Adler, a renowned philosopher and psychologist described the meaning of true love as “not, as some psychologists think, a pure and natural function.” Rather, it is something that is built, nurtured, and established through effort and pure intentions. Otherwise, anyone can claim to ‘fall in love’ without having any reason to make an effort to prove it!
Some may consider that falling in love is all but natural; but, if you think about it, it is often just another ego-driven, materialistic pursuit in one’s life. In a materialistic form of love, people eventually fall out of love because they fail to consider real-life that continues long after when initial attraction happens or when marriage occurs. The colloquial cliché of falling head over heels in love shows how one can become disoriented and confused, forgetting that true love is a lifelong endeavour to make the right choices and not just a sudden mishap!
Every individual has the capacity to love; it is an innate potential that can be consciously developed.
As described by Adler, the ‘active art of loving’ or in reality, the ‘goal of love’ is to ‘accomplish a task achieved by two people’, and ‘a task at which both of you must work, with joy”; and to “live in such a way that you make the other’s life easier and more beautiful.” Every individual has the capacity to love; it is an innate potential that can be consciously developed.
According to another philosopher, Alain de Boton, “…many people believe that love is just an instinct, but it’s not. It’s a skill, and it’s a skill that needs to be learnt, and it’s a skill that our society refuses to consider as a skill. We are meant (to believe that we need only) to follow our feeling but if you keep following your feelings you will almost certainly make a big mistake in your life. We start off with idealization and we end up often with denigration. The person goes from absolutely marvelous to being absolutely terrible (in our estimation)…we’ve been told that the way to find a good partner is to follow our heart and stop reasoning and analysing. The problem is that we live in a romantic culture that privileges impulse (over rationalizing what is right and what will be harmful in the near future).”
True love is learned, developed, and nurtured.
When we learn to develop our own selves and nurture relationships based on the happiness of “us” rather than “me”, we then experience true love. Feelings of genuine love hence provide a sense of security, which is deeply rooted within a sense of belonging. This form of love stands firm upon a foundation where the ultimate purpose of this feeling is to promote each other’s progress, to sustain each other’s growth, and to nurture each other’s good characteristics.
As explained by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction”. It is about complementing each other’s goals, accepting personal growth over time, by realising each other’s worth and attaining a sense of belonging. Real love is a skill; it is an action, a conscious choice.
A choice to better ourselves, for the sake of our relationships and for the peace of our societies.
The Islamic concept of love constructs a framework for relationships, covering morals, spirituality, and practicality.
A choice to better ourselves, for the sake of our relationships and for the peace of our societies. Essentially, Islam teaches one the ‘art of love’ as described by Adler, and provides fundamental guidelines for accomplishing this task. This, the Holy Quran emphasises, can be learned by treating your better half with righteousness, piety, justice, and fairness – something which is repeated multiple times in the Islamic marriage ceremony.
However, Islam also goes one step further and explains that this love stems from loving The Creator. Pure love should never contradict or compete with one’s love for a higher purpose or love for God. Rather, it should strengthen it. This is because everything in the universe is finite and only God is Everlasting.
When we live for a higher purpose, which is to become one with God by emulating His characteristics and solely relying on Him, we automatically become self-reliant and no longer require appreciation or validation from others. This allows us to give back to our partners in a healthy manner and treat them with righteousness and piety, which develops love.
True love allows you to be at peace with yourself and with God.
That is why God says that true love leads to peace of mind and heart. Superficial love or vain desires are the opposite. They will make you unhappy and keep you unsatisfied; one can chase it but never achieve it. Although it might take over your whole self, it can never bring about inner peace or happiness that comes from being truly content.
True contentment arises from removing oneself as the centre of attention and instead focusing on how to become self-reliant – to grow, to learn, and to self-reflect to improve our own shortcomings. To be self-reliant, or in the common day term to ‘self-love’, transcends any passive ego-centric, arrogant infatuation.
When we focus on becoming the best version of ourselves, for the sake of God, we eventually free ourselves from societal expectations of love, experiencing a true form of happiness that generates from deliberate intentions and practice, just like any other pursuit for human excellence.
The Holy Quran also describes that true love between a couple is put there by God as a sign of His existence.
Through the divinely created law of cause and effect, because when they both treat each other with respect, affection, and kindness they are in a way treating each other based on Godly qualities, which results in creating love between them and thus become a garment for one another for the sake of God – this ‘art of love’ is thus pure and genuine in every sense.
This, therefore, also requires that every effort is made to become a raiment of righteousness for the other to not only be the recipients of love but also become those who can develop this wholehearted form of love. In such a relationship, “men and women will discharge their responsibilities towards each other and will regard and be mindful of each other’s rights. They will make their homes hubs of love and affection… Each man and woman would strive towards making a sacrifice in order to fulfil each other’s rights.”(2)
As a result, modern-day psychology explains that because “love is a task at which both of you must work, with joy”(3) any man and woman when they live with each other in peace and harmony, they live in such a way that they make the other’s life easier and more beautiful.
The key to achieving true love is fulfilling our need to love in a manner, which pleases God.
When we understand the true essence of what it means to love, it becomes more than what you can feel in any given moment of ecstasy. A form of genuine happiness, that is established as a result of looking after each other’s individual happiness begins to take place.
One becomes liberated and creates a meaningful bond of pure bliss that eventually permeates all around them. Society achieves emancipation, nations prosper, and the world flourishes because the happiness of ‘us’ prevails.
The key to achieving true love is fulfilling our need to love in a manner, which pleases God. This not only creates peace of the heart that correlates with peace of the mind but also establishes peace within our relationships, leading to true happiness and contentment of the soul.